Sunday Lifestyle

What I learned from my mom

The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - “I would say that she was my best friend,” Ballsy Aquino Cruz says of her late mother, the former president Corazon Aquino, whose birthday is being celebrated this Jan. 25. Mother-daughter relationships are often special to begin with, but when you’ve gone through great tragedies and greater triumphs with your mom by your side, including working with her when she held the toughest job in the country, the connection turns into something much deeper.

There was nothing Ballsy would keep from her mom. “My sisters would say, ‘If there’s a secret you don’t want Mom to know, don’t tell Ate.’” When Mrs. Aquino got sick, she moved in with Ballsy, the eldest daughter, and to this day she feels Cory’s presence strongly: “She’s physically gone, but she’s still always there.” Ballsy has learned so much from her mother that she manages to find the right things to say to friends who are sick or who’ve lost loved ones to cancer. Talking to Ballsy means getting an insider’s highly personal look at two of the most significant people in modern Philippine history, not only as political figures, but as Mom and Dad.

My sisters and I were really close to Mom. She was both mom and dad to us during the years Dad was in prison. The day my dad was killed, we were in the States living in exile. I couldn’t sleep; it was past midnight so I went down to my mom’s room. The phone rang, I answered it and a Japanese correspondent asked, “Is it true that Mr. Aquino was shot and killed?” My mom called a friend from the Associated Press and (it was confirmed). My mom took a breath and, to calm us down, she said, “Dad’s gone. There’s nothing we can do right now. Let’s all kneel down and pray the rosary.” She was so brave.

She told us, “I just want to let you know, Dad always said if he could choose a way to go, he would have picked this way.” And it really helped me. When my dad was alive I remember him saying,
“You have to know when to go.”

We were going home (to the Philippines to bury Dad). We were consoling ourselves, “Okay, maybe we’ll have a quiet life now” — not knowing that Mom would run for president. Running for office was never in her mind, but the opposition leaders were saying, “You know, Cory, if you don’t run, it will be Marcos again.” A classmate of my dad in UP told her, “You know, Cory, you’ll have it on your conscience if you don’t do anything. Remember Ninoy said, ‘If I could have done something and did nothing, then how can I live when all my life I’ll be haunted by it?’” That bothered Mom.

So one day she went to the Pink Sisters convent and she fasted the entire day and prayed for guidance. She went home and told us, “I really have to run.” “Mom, why? What if they kill you?” She said, “It’s not like I really want to do this, but I feel like I have to. If I don’t win, at least I tried and can live with myself.” It was only Kris who said, “Wow, Mom, go for it!”

I didn’t even know whether I should pray for her to win because it would be such an abnormal life. My dad liked that life, of course. But it was different with my mom because she really didn’t like it. I could see that it was a sacrifice. She really was such a private person unlike my dad, who all his life wanted to be president.

During those dark days of martial law, my mom would go to church and see her classmates really trying to avoid her. She went to a wedding, and nobody wanted to sit with her. She had to go through a lot of humiliation. When we would visit my dad at the camp where he was held, we all had to go through body search every time. We were stripped down to our underwear and patted all over. That’s how we would spend our weekends. 

The saddest days for Mom were more (because of) what they did to Dad. When he was brought to Nueva Ecija and an army truck returned to Mom the things they said Dad no longer needed. And it was just everything. Even his wedding ring. She was worried that they had done something terrible to him and they didn’t tell her anything; she’d live through more than a month of not knowing where my dad was or what had happened to him. In between, there would be army guys who’d give Mom information, for money. They’d even make up stories just for more money

It wasn’t a normal teenage life because whereas my friends would be going out of town, for us siblings, Saturdays were reserved for Dad. In a way we were saying our parents are lucky to have kids like us, no one was into drugs, no one was contrabida, we did whatever they said.



When my dad went on a hunger strike for 40 days it was also so difficult for my mom. To the point he couldn’t walk by himself anymore, they allowed her to go visit every day. That was the first time my mom had to go to a priest and asked that he help my dad end his hunger strike. If I have to think of her two or three greatest trials, it would have to be Dad’s hunger strike and the time Kris got pregnant.

Mom was not the type to not share when people asked her something. She’d always be open and honest, but when Kris got pregnant with Josh when she was 24, my mom really was not prepared to talk about that. It took some time for her, even talking to a group of single moms on how best to handle those things. When Kris fell in love with James Yap who was 12 years younger and it didn’t work out again, Mom said, “Kris, please, I hope I won’t be around anymore the next time you fall in love.”

When Kris got pregnant at 24, her friends were telling Mom, “Cory, it’s not something you have to feel ashamed about. Even Cardinal Sin has said it’s just a sin of passion! It’s not like she killed someone.” After that, Mom could laugh about it.

When my dad was in prison, he would write a poem on their anniversary. Jose Mari Chan put one to music: “I Have Fallen In Love (With The Same Woman Three Times).” Why three times? First was when he spotted her when they were kids. Second time, when their first child (myself) was born. Mom really treasured all of those poems.

When my mom was president, Noy wanted to run because he was really into public service. He wanted to run, but Mom thought it wouldn’t look good. “Wait until I’m no longer president because they’ll say you only won because I was president then,” she said. So he was a good son and waited, and in 1992, he said, “Maybe now I can run.” My mom said, “Noy, maawa ka sa kapatid mo. After six years of this, rest naman tayo.” “Okay, 1995, Mom, enough rest?” Mom said, “Mahiya ka sa Tarlac.” (Mom’s brother was congressman of the first district and Ninoy’s uncle was congressman of the third.) So again, Noy waited. By 1998, no more excuses, so he ran.

They say that the presidency is really destiny. My dad, all his life, wanted to be president. My mom didn’t want it, but she became president. Noy, it wasn’t even in his mind at the time, but he went through what Mom went through.












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